Last night’s State of the Union address and Republican response were historic, and will be studied in textbooks for years to come due to that historic significance. Regardless of party persuasion or ideology, both speeches offer valuable lessons on public speaking and messaging.
The President both looked and sounded like….a President. Everything from his physical appearance to his mannerisms to his cadence looked and sounded Presidential. That is not a surprise — the President is gifted and had put a lot of time into preparing for this speech — that was obvious.
There has been much debate recently about the President’s use of the teleprompter, and that will be the subject of a future post. Teleprompter aside, the President was sharp in his delivery.
The Governor was nervous upon entering, and should never have been put in a room without a live audience – big mistake. It was downhill from there as the Governor’s cadence was off, he raced through the prepared text, failed to pause and stressed strange syllables. He managed to slow down mid-way through the response and his delivery improved; however the damage had already been done.
I do not know how much preparation the Governor had done prior to delivering the speech. What I do know is that more proper preparation would have improved the performance dramatically, as would having a live audience rather than the uncomfortable feeling of talking to only cameras.
Both the President and the Governor made the same exact major messaging mistake, however in very different parts of their respective speeches.
Without any commentary on content or policy, last night was about jobs and the economy. That was and remains first and foremost on most minds across the nation.
The President absolutely nailed his message early, at approximately the 3:54 mark of a 52 minute speech:
“You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.
But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”
For the next ten minutes, give or take, the President continued to talk about the economy and jobs….and then he stopped. He spoke about a number of other policy initiatives for nearly 30 minutes, removing the power from the lines above. He did not allow them to sink in, he did not continually repeat them, and he did not have every other topic he spoke about refer back to those paragraphs (he did on some occasions, didn’t on others). Simply put, he had the “gem”, his message, and proceeded to bury it.
Governor Jindal did the exact opposite — his message was buried so deep in his response that there was no way he could have held his audience’s attention, even if his delivery was perfect. The following four paragraphs are exactly the message the Governor wanted to send:
“In all these areas, Republicans want to work with President Obama. We appreciate his message of hope — but sometimes it seems we look for hope in different places. Democratic leaders in Washington place their hope in the federal government. We place our hope in you — the American people.leads to the final lesson from last night — the importance of authenticity and ownership over one’s words and speeches. First, to quell a few misconceptions –
In the end, it comes down to an honest and fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government. We oppose the national Democrats’ view that says the way to strengthen our country is to increase dependence on government. We believe the way to strengthen our country is to restrain spending in Washington and empower individuals and small businesses to grow our economy and create jobs.
In recent years, these distinctions in philosophy became less clear because our party got away from its principles. You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline and personal responsibility. Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington. Republicans lost your trust — and rightly so.
Tonight, on behalf of our leaders in Congress and my fellow Republican governors, I say: Our party is determined to regain your trust.”
A very powerful message in its own right — too bad it was buried in the final moments of the response!
This should have been the opening four paragraphs, and should have continued throughout the entire response NOT buried toward the end.
This leads to the final lesson from last night — the importance of authenticity and ownership over one’s words and speeches. First, to quell a few misconceptions:
1)It is ok to not read every word of a speech
2)It is ok to flub a line or two if you are speaking from the heart rather than from prepared text
It was apparent last evening that both the President and the Governor were reading from texts prepared for them and it showed. You can tell when someone owns their words, when the text was written by them. The President was able to appear more conversational because of his oratorical gifts, and one can only imagine how powerful of a speaker he would be if he wrote his own text.
It was obvious that the Governor was engaging in a lecture more than a conversation, which is a shame because his stories were very powerful, as was his message.
One last note — it is unfair to label Governor Jindal a poor public speaker due to one performance – his body language was good, he has good stories, and he is very likeable. He would benefit tremendously from communications training and practice.